We were lifted by a live musical performance by Peter Buffet, Co-Chair of NoVo Foundation – whose music seemed to reach out and embrace the room. He performed pieces that were inspired by his work in promoting the lives of adolescent girls, by his observations of tremendous environmental waste, and by philanthropy, which – he reminded us – translates to “love of people.” Between songs he asked the audience whether the truth of humans can really be unfolded at 5% a year, and it was no coincidence that this question was followed by a song whose chorus asked: “can we love in the time that we live?” And in a moment of levity noted that one song was inspired by an RFP (Request for Proposal), laughing that this is perhaps the only audience for which that would have meaning.
This interlude preceded the considered remarks of His Highness the Aga Khan, Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network. A man who has devoted fifty years to poverty alleviation throughout Africa, and from the Middle East to Pakistan noted that “building successful nation states will depend — as it did during industrialization in the West — on providing significantly more access to opportunities for rural populations…It requires that the quality of rural life is a daily concern for national governments.”
He urged fellow philanthropists to work with governments and traditional institutions to harness a massive, coordinated effort to reach the rural poor. “Longstanding values and traditions must be understood and related to modern life; these institutions are among the best means we have for improving the lives of most people in the developing world, who remain in rural communities.”
A large percent of the world’s problems have been born in the countryside of the poorest countries; by ignoring these areas, the Aga Khan argued, the entire world becomes vulnerable to the risk of conflict. His Highness also discussed his multiple-input approach to tackling development problems, and likened this approach to Secretary Clinton’s emphasis on finding the greatest impact from different sectors through strategic partnerships. On a personal note, he shared with participants the perceived tensions between his relationship with his work as the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, and his relationship with his work as a philanthropist. Such tensions, however, have been falsely created by what he calls the clash of ignorance between Muslim and Christian societies. Islam, he explained, places strong value on the elimination of poverty in society, and an even stronger value on philanthropy’s central role in this process. He expressed optimism about President Obama, who is committed to working with people across regions and sectors to reduce misunderstanding, so that we can work in partnership to address endemic poverty.
(Read the rest of Jane’s post here)